Berdychiv Old Jewish Cemetery
The exact period of the cemetery’s establishment is unknown. But, it emerged not later than the second half of the 18th century, as the earliest preserved tombstone dates to 1771 (tombstone of Rabi Eliezer Lieber). According to Commission on the Preservation of Jewish Heritage, last burial dates to the 19th century. Park named after T. Shevchenko was founded on the site of the cemetery in 1932. Thus, the cemetery was demolished before 1932.
Jews in Berdychiv (Ukr. Бердичів, Rus. Бердичев, Yid. באַרדיטשעוו) are first mentioned in 1593: a Jew rented a mill and had the right to collect bridge taxes on behalf of the owners. In the 18th century, when Berdychiv became an important commercial centre, the Jewish population grew from 1,220 in 1765 to 4,820 in 1798. The Jewish community of Berdychiv gained influence and received the nickname “Jerusalem of Volhynia”. In the late 18th century, Berdychiv attracted Hasidic teachers, the most important of them being R. Levi Yitzchok (1740–1809). In the first half of the 19th century, Berdychiv became a major centre of Haskalah, with modern schools and a public library. The numerous printing presses, with the first established in 1798, made Berdychiv one of the most important places for Jewish printing and publishing in the Russian Empire. Berdychiv was the birthplace of such world-famous musicians as the brothers Anton (1829–94) and Nikolai Rubinstein (1835–81), the founders of the Conservatories in St Petersburg and Moscow respectively, or Vladimir Horowitz (1903-89). The writers Der Nister (Pinchus Kahanovich, 1884–1950) and Vasily Grossman (1905–64) were also born in Berdychiv. During the 19th century, the Jewish population grew rapidly, reaching 41,617 in 1897, which was 78% of the total population. As the economic situation in Berdychiv deteriorated towards the end of the 19th century, the community was affected by high levels of poverty, with about 20% of the Jews depending on charity. Berdychiv remained, however, a major Jewish centre and in popular conscience epitomised the typical Jewish town. As of 1907, the community maintained 6 synagogues and 72 prayer houses, two Jewish cemeteries, a hospital, an orphanage, several Jewish schools of different levels, several libraries. Both Zionists and the Bund became active in Berdychiv in the late 19th century, the Bund being the dominant political party until the Bolshevik takeover. In 1910, the Jewish population of Berdychiv was 57,209 (77%). During the Civil War in 1919, a pogrom was staged by Petliura’s troops. In the 1920, the Soviet authorities closed most of the Jewish religious institutions. The Chabad yeshiva, founded in 1914, went underground and operated until 1942. Zionist groups worked clandestinely as well. On the other hand, Yiddish culture was officially promoted: Ukraine’s first Yiddish-language law court (1924) and first Jewish police commissariat (1926) were created in Berdychiv, as well as Yiddish-language schools. In the 1930s, however, Jewish cultural institutions were dismantled, Yiddish cultural life virtually stopped. The Jewish population in 1939 was 23,266. After Germany invaded the USSR in 1941, some of Berdychiv’s Jews were able to evacuate, while a considerable number of Jewish refugees arrived from the western areas of the USSR. In July 1941, Berdychiv was captured by the Germans, and mass shootings began. The Jews were confined in a ghetto, with the majority of them killed by November 1941. In all, 38,366 local Jews and Jews from other communities were murdered in Berdychiv in 1941–44. Some of the evacuees returned after the war, and Jewish community life was partly restored. The synagogue was reopened in 1946. There were about 6300 Jews (12%) in Berdychiv in 1959. Although most of the Jews emigrated in the 1970s–90s, Berdychiv still has a Jewish community with 3 synagogues, several cultural organisations and a Jewish museum. According to the 2001 census, the Jewish population was 401.
It is not known precisely when the cemetery was founded. It may have appeared as early as the 16th or the 17th century. By the 19th century, the cemetery had become disused. In 1929, excavations were carried out with a view to making the cemetery a conservation area. In 1932, however, the cemetery was demolished, and a park was opened in its place. During the German occupation, the park was used as a German war cemetery, which was demolished immediately after the liberation. The tombstone of R. Eliezer Lieber the Great (1667?–1770) was erected in the 1980s. The actual grave was located near the entrance to the park.